In elementary school, loved St. Louis native Sidney Keys III to read, but rarely saw himself represented in books. His mother took him to a local Black-owned bookstore one day, and the seemingly simple dose of representation didn’t just make him feel seen. It motivated him – aged just ten – to start a book club for boys in his community to encourage a love of reading and a sense of belonging.
His Books N Brows subscription service includes featured book of the month, reading guides and curriculum curated by Sidney’s mother Winnie Elizabeth Thompson. “We have served over 770 boys in total internationally,” explains Thompson. “The boys receive monthly boxes, and after the pandemic the meetings switched to virtual.” She also explains that Books N Bros has donated more than 1,000 books to youth-focused organizations that support underserved communities.
Just in time for Black History Month, Sidney Keys III – now 17 – has authored his first book inspired by his own book club.
His debut title Books N Bros: 44 Inspirational Books for Black Boys provides a recommended reading list of more than 40 books by notable authors including Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Ty Allan Jackson and more. “When I started Books N Bros, it was because I didn’t see myself in books,” says Keys. “Now I can say that I’m helping other boys who look like me to see themselves represented in stories they can escape in, and I wrote a book that can be used as a literary resource from a black man’s perspective.” The book organizes recommendations into six literary category chapters: history, biographies, novels, short stories and poems, comics, graphic novels and superheroes, family and society, and money and career.
In the chapter on money and career, the reader is introduced to Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire. Keys describes it as “the book that helped me see myself as a business owner before I started Books N Bros.”
The book shows a young man with plans to become a millionaire. “On the one hand, the story takes you through an immersive journey that could be considered an overnight success. But what I love is the financial education included,” Keys explains. “Reading this as a 10-year-old opened my mind to experience so much more out of life thanks to the understanding of financial freedom after reading this book by Ty Allan Jackson.”
Another of Key’s recommendations profiled in his book is Long way down by Jason Reynolds. “It’s one of the first books that helped me feel comfortable with topics like grief and trauma,” Keys explains. “The main character Will loses his brother Shawn to crime. Their story is relatable to many of us who have lived in or near communities where violence is common.”
Another Keys favorite is Stewart Mitchell’s Liberation summer that tells the story of Jayden Young, a young man who secures a fast food job to finance college tuition and the experience changes his life forever. “Liberation Summer opened my eyes to the unfortunate reality of animal cruelty and the existence of food deserts in low-income/underserved communities,” explains Keys. “I appreciate author Stewart Mitchell for bringing awareness to this issue throughout this novel.”
Sidney Keys III, a self-described social entrepreneur, is just getting started. Having worked with his mother to launch a book club, navigate associate operations and distribution needs, and author and promote a book, he has gained remarkable management and entrepreneurial experience…all before his 18th birthday.th birthday.
“He’s very aware of how to secure brand partnerships (his first was with eyewear company Phonetic Eyewear when he was 11 years old, when his clear glasses became part of his image),” explains Keys’ mother. “And after various media opportunities, he’s open to trying his hand at broadcast journalism in college. He wants to have the opportunity to share other stories around the world and advise others on a life-changing experience thanks to the path he’s been on.”
In the short term, Keys is focused on revisiting in-person book club meetings and encouraging the expansion of the Books N Brows chapter around the country. While his unique experiences have strengthened critical skills such as public speaking, interviewing skills, workshop facilitation and virtual organizing, his greatest lesson may have been the importance of pursuing a passion. He felt a lack of representation and inclusion and decided to do something about it. He turned a passion into an entrepreneurial endeavor. As a high school junior, his long-term career trajectory is yet to be defined, but with his demonstrated determination and focus, one can be sure that his future will be bright.